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Mixing modes - the funcrunch files


Aug. 23rd, 2008 12:54 pm Mixing modes

In last week's bass lesson, Steve began to teach me about musical modes. I'd heard of them before but never bothered to learn anything about them, other than Mixolydian as part of a piece I'm working on (Traffic's Low Spark of High Heeled Boys) is in that mode. Steve demonstrated all of the modes by playing them on the white keys of the piano, which really helped me to understand them better. He also mentioned that the Led Zeppelin song Dancing Days is in mixed Lydian-Mixolydian mode, and suggested I practice that scale.

At home later that day I looked up modes on Wikipedia. Then I got out my Led Zeppelin Complete (to 1973, anyway) songbook and tried to play through Dancing Days. It was a bit tough with all the ledger lines as it's a piano-vocal rather than bass score. I started flipping through the rest of the book as I love so many songs on both Houses of the Holy and IV (or ZOSO, whatever), and landed on Four Sticks. It took awhile to figure out which mode this song was in, as the key signature was A, but every G had a natural sign, and the song clearly wasn't in either A major or the relative minor, F#. Eventually I figured out that the verses were in E Dorian, and the choruses in A mixolydian.

I was excited to share my discovery with Steve today. At first he said no, it's A mixolydian, but then he realized that I was right, as the tonic-sounding note for the verses is E, not A. He explained that the two modes in this song were actually contiguous, with the verses starting the scale on E and the choruses on A, which made sense. He praised my intellect, and suggested I transcribe the song with the key signature of D major, which would make more sense, as then all the G natural accidentals could be avoided.

I'm still working on Low Spark and Black Orpheus as well, both of which are a hell of a lot easier to sing than Robert Plant's screaming alto parts, but I do love Led Zep. And I'm excited to learn about modes, and re-learn minor scales, and generally feel like I'm becoming a more competent musician every day.

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Comments:

From:euneeblic
Date:August 23rd, 2008 08:16 pm (UTC)
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Ah, I miss music theory. I was never able to figure out how to make alternate modes sound right, and figured they don't exist in popular music. I guess I was wrong!

Edited at 2008-08-23 08:17 pm (UTC)
From:riseorbleed
Date:August 25th, 2008 10:00 am (UTC)
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At band camp we had a music teacher with a daughter named Dorian. We were constantly asking him if her name would change when she turned 18.
From:inflectionpoint
Date:August 25th, 2008 01:20 pm (UTC)
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Gigglesnort... at band camp? Oh dear me! What happened at band camp?

This stuff sounds interesting, I'd love to ask you more about it some time, both of ya - if you can splain with the Small Words to a non musician like me. And I like me some Led Zeppelin, goodness yes!
From:riseorbleed
Date:August 25th, 2008 07:58 pm (UTC)
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It was just jazz camp in Idlewild, CA sponsored by CSU Fullerton. No, I didn't do anything exotic with flutes. I drank too much caffeinated soda though. I met a drummer with a developmental twist to his hands, all metacarpals were funneled into one thumb, and he'd use wristbands to keep his drumsticks in hand. Put things in perspective for me, being pterodactyl and all.